Just under a third of secondary school children correctly understand the fees system for universities in England reveals the latest survey commissioned by the Sutton Trust.

When asked about the main source of money students typically use to pay for their higher education, 31% of pupils aged 11-16 said that the money will be borrowed from the government, and paid back when they earn over a certain salary. Over a fifth of pupils believed that the family of a young person will usually pay for university; while a tenth thought that a young person would pay with money earned before doing a degree.  A fifth of pupils were unsure about the main source of funding used by most university students.

However, the prospect of increased tuition fees of up to £9,000 in England has not dented the university aspirations of pupils at state secondary schools according to the survey.  The proportion of 11-16 year-olds who think they are either ‘very likely’ or ‘fairly likely’ to go to into higher education this year is in line with findings from last year (78% compared with 80%).

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Our survey reveals widespread misunderstanding of the new fees system among school pupils – but once again demonstrates high levels of aspirations to go to university among 11-16 year olds of all backgrounds who realise education is increasingly the key to future employment.

“I am very concerned that these early aspirations will not be translated into reality for far too many of our young people from low and middle income households when they are confronted with the prospect of £9000 fees and debts on graduation of over £40,000. The Trust will be shortly announcing the creation of an independent commission to monitor the impact of the fee increases on the participation rates to higher education.”

The Ipsos Mori Young People Omnibus Survey was based on 2,700 schoolchildren in England and Wales and was carried out earlier this year between January 23rd and April 15th, just after the Government introduced its new student finance reforms.

The survey found that only a quarter of pupils from poorer families correctly understood the new fees arrangements in England [1]. Older school pupils were more likely to know how it operates – with just over a half (52%) of pupils aged 15/16 answering correctly.

Children in towns and cities are more likely to expect to go to university than those in rural areas – 79% as opposed to 73%.

Table summaries of findings

For most young people, what do you think is the MAIN source of the money they use to pay for their higher education?
The young person borrows money from the government, and then they start to pay it back as soon as they are earning a certain wage/ salary31%
The family of the young person pays21%
The young person pays with money they earn before they go to university, while they are at university and during the holidays11%
The young person borrows money from the government, and then they start to pay it back as soon as they finish their degree8%
The government pays6%
Don’t know20%
Not stated2%
How likely or unlikely are you to go into higher education when you are old enough?
Very likely39%39%
Fairly likely39%41%
Fairly unlikely7%6%
Very unlikely3%2%
Not sure either way yet10%11%
Not stated1%2%

The Ipsos MORI Young People Omnibus captured data from 2,739 school children aged 11-16 in England and Wales.  Children completed self-completion questionnaires in interviewer-supervised classroom sessions between January 23rd and April 15th 2011.  Data have been weighted by gender, age and region to represent the known profile of secondary-age children in England and Wales.  The 2010 Young People’s Omnibus was conducted between 11 January and 23 April and consisted of 2,700 interviews which school children aged 11-16 in England and Wales.

[1] The Family Affluence Scale was used.  25% of pupils in the least affluent families correctly identified that most students rely on government loans which are later repaid, compared with 33% pupils in the most affluent families.   The Family Affluence scale uses a set of questions about family resources – such as computer and car ownership, and frequency of taking holidays – to group respondents into low, medium or high affluence groups.  More detail can be found here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/v04u3732442nkx5k/

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